While plenty of media institutions have publicised this study with headlines around the finding that men are less stressed when they share household chores (only slightly, mind), I think the research highlights a huge blockage within employers.
Men are clearly becoming more interested in and more determined to spend more time with their kids. Brilliant. Mothers are still proclaiming that it is their job to do most of the child-rearing. Unfortunate. Men still don’t request flexible working as much as women. Bloody sodding awful.
Why? Because this presenteeism within companies is what drives the myth that child-rearing is women’s work – and hey, look, women have fell for that line. Companies explicitly promote flexible working as a female-initiative through images and language within their internal comms as well as by approving far more requests for flexible working from women than men.
22% of women made a request to work flexibly in between 2005 and 2007 compared to 14% of men. And 66% of those women had their requests met fully compared to 53% of the men. Source: DTI Work-life Balance Survey. According to another Working Families survey, respondents (57% men) felt that working flexible would slow down their career as they would be less visible.
The message from employers seems to be: if you squeezed ’em out, you get to look after them, but it might slow down your career. Hey, men, you don’t want to slow down your career – not with kids to look after! Work harder and never see them, but at least you’ll have money to buy them gifts!
How very 1950s of them. And I don’t think it’s entirely about sexism; no, I think it’s about our long hours culture that is increasingly seeing people work more than 40 hours a week. (Weirdly, the public sector is leading the way on flexible working but it perversely has far more people working more than their contracted hours than the private sector.)
Until businesses wake up to the fact that people can work shorter hours and still hit their targets or perform well, and staying in the office until 10pm doesn’t mean a hard-worker, it means someone who is either a) over-worked or b) not very good at time-management, women will continue by default to gain the time to spend with their children and continue to be thought of as ‘uncommitted’ to their company.
Which leaves both men and women screwed.